Here is the recording of our January 2023 webinar, on Place names in the Cambrian Mountains.
Map reading in the Cambrian Mountains is a totally different experience for those who understand their Welsh topographic terms. “Most Welsh place names are very transparent for Welsh speakers, even if the area is unfamiliar to them”, explains Dr Dylan Foster Evans, Head of the School of Welsh at Cardiff University and Chair of the Welsh Place Names Society. The maps are full of references to esgair (ridge), llanerch (glade), rhaeadr (waterfall) and so on. “But names can also be misleading, if they have changed over time; you cannot assume they are as simple as they appear.” He himself has spent many years studying these names and the insights they offer into the area’s people and history.
Dr Evans was speaking at our January webinar , which generated so much interest that places sold out several days before the event took place. It was an excellent and informative talk, and included details for many resources – both books and online – to help people investigate names for themselves. The name “Cambrian Mountains” itself is sometimes challenged, despite having been used for mountains in Wales for several centuries. “Deriving from Cambria, the Latin name for Wales, it has never been used in common parlance, it isn’t a product of the Welsh imagination” says Dr Evans. “But the component areas’ names are Welsh through and through. Pumlumon or Plynlimon means five ‘stacks’ or beacons, though we do not know whether they were ever used for that purpose. Elenydd means the river Elan’s area, Elan possibly meaning swift flowing or leaping like a young deer. Mynydd Mallaen in the south of the uplands indicates open or grazing land associated with a person named Llaen – which happens to be the same root name as the Irish kingdom of Leinster.”
Not all names in the Cambrians have quite such lofty associations, however. One audience member asked Dr Evans about the puzzling name of his former house, Caermalwas. There is no record of a word ‘malwas’, but the house name appears in older records in a number of variations. Dr Evans’ best explanation was that the owner in the Middle Ages, when the name arose, might have been a lad with less than a full head of hair. The farm’s name probably meant “Baldy’s Field”!.